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Burnt Hair

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Joannabeth Sterling was nine when she had her first Entity Encounter.

 

At the beginning of the year, her mother had died. A house fire, reports had said, and it certainly did look like she had been burnt alive. But what struck Joannabeth as odd was that there was no fire.

 

She knew this intimately well as she had sat there across from her mother in the living room, watching her burn to death while screaming at her not to get any closer. Screaming at her to run.

 

Joannabeth did not run. She didn’t go anywhere, she simply sat there in her father’s rocking chair. She was scared, yes. She was so scared . But she was too curious for her own good, and couldn’t stop watching. Couldn’t bring herself to move off the seat. What did a body look like while it burnt? Would this look different if there were flames? Why were there no flames?

 

She sat there, though she couldn’t’ve told you why, really.

 

Sitting there, she watched the scorch marks around the corpse of her mother spread, spread until they reached the couch. Then the coffee table. And they stopped just before they reached Joannabeth’s chair.

 

She didn’t move until she heard the sounds of her father trying to unlock the door as quickly as possible, and instantly became aware of the smoke alarms going off.

 

Her father had taken one look at what had become of his wife and barely let Joannabeth go back for her Bells.

 

The fire, the real fire had come two weeks later when they were almost done moving everything out. There were only a couple of boxes left in the house, and all their valuables had been packed up and moved to the new house, but knowing they lost things made Joannabeth feel bad, no matter how insignificant the things had seemed to either of them.

 

After that, Jo’s father had started to isolate her. She understands now why he did it but at the time it was almost completely unreasonable, and even now she knows it was far from the best reaction.

 

The house they moved into, Jo’s grandmother’s old house, which her mother had always refused to sell, wasn’t the closest to many other houses, and it was a seven minute drive into the nearest town, which wasn’t far in a car, but it was quite far on foot.

 

The neighbours were nice enough, they’d talk for a moment or two while Jo was walking up and down the street and one of them was out. That was before they had all killed eachother, though, and the sudden deaths of her neighbours had meant Jo was alone again. 

 

There were times when her father offered to get her a pet to keep her company while he was at work, and Jo was all for that at first, really. But then one day she watched what were once her dead neighbour’s dogs turn on eachother violently and bleed out on her front lawn from the wounds they inflicted on eachother, and she decided if having a pet meant that might happen, she would be fine alone.

 

If it were not for the fact that they really had nowhere else to go, Jo bets they would’ve moved again.

 

Alone with her thoughts most of the time, Jo found herself grasping at any hints of human interaction she could’ve possibly gotten, which other than her father, really wasn’t much.

 

The fog seemed to press in closer to their house. Jo’s father doesn’t seem to worry, so that should mean Jo shouldn’t worry. Jo really can’t not worry, though.

 

With every book she read she found herself getting lost in the characters, in the adventures they went on, and she felt herself slip away more with them. It wasn’t until one day she woke up with the fog pressed against her windows she realized she should probably stop, though what correlation the books had to the fog she really didn’t know at the time.

 

She couldn’t have told you how long it was until the fog went away. Her dad didn’t come home when he should’ve, and after the first two hours Jo decided it wasn’t just traffic keeping him from getting home. The fog must be blocking the way.

 

Jo’s room was small, and felt smaller with the fog pressing in. She’d open her door and go downstairs like she always did when she felt alone, but when she got downstairs something felt extremely wrong.

 

It took her twenty minutes to notice the fog swirling on the floor of the living room, seeping in through the cracks under the front door where the bugs always crawled in. As Jo runs upstairs, she wishes it was bugs coming in through the cracks in the door.

 

She kept her door open, but stuffed any gaps in her window closed with dirty laundry she picked up off the floor. She sat in the doorway of her room with a clear view of down the stairs, where the fog was agonisingly slowly filling up the house.

 

Jo doesn’t like the fog. The fog shouldn’t be breaking into her house like this, but it was. She thinks she’d rather have people break into her house than fog.

 

She dozed off a couple times, the only sounds the ticking of her clock on the wall which seemed to either speed up or slow down as her patience came and went, and each time she awoke the fog was closer up the stairs.

 

She hit her head against the doorframe to wake herself up, and watched the fog, trying to stay awake until her dad would come home. Surely this would all end when her dad came home.

 

When the fog was two steps away from officially being on the second floor, Jo caved and looked behind her, seeing the clock read four AM. It was impossible to tell what time it was with all this fog, everything looked the same.

 

Jo’s mind jumps to the most logical conclusion at the time, and she decides her father must be dead if he’s not home already.

 

At this point, convinced she’s an orphan, Jo starts grasping at straws to keep herself… calm. Or sane. Or at the very least, alive .

 

She tried using blankets and pieces of paper to fan the fog away, but that didn’t work. If anything that made it worse, the fog blowing up and now crawling along the ceiling in a way that really shouldn’t’ve been possible for fog to do.

 

She stuck her arm into the fog a couple times, just to see what would happen. It was cold. And wet. And each time she did it she felt more tired, like it would be so easy to just sit there and let the fog consume her. She was already alone, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

That was until she felt a hand grab her wrist. A very hot hand, too. 

 

Jo, doing the logical thing, screamed and ran back to her room, slammed the door behind her, then locked it, then stuffed the cracks in the bottom of the door with more dirty laundry, then pushed her toybox in front of the door.

 

It didn’t occur to her until several minutes later that she now has no way to get out, but really, if the only options were window fog and stair fog, then there really aren’t options.

 

Jo sat on her bed, the heaviest book she had in hand, eyes glued on the door. The heaviest book she owned, of course, was really not that big, and Jo knew even then that it probably wouldn’t do much about burning hot hands in mysterious fog.

 

She heard footsteps on the other side of the door, light enough she almost couldn’t hear them, and really she wasn’t sure if it was actual footsteps or hearing her heart beat in her ears.

 

There came a knock on her door, again quiet, but this time Jo knew it wasn’t her heartbeat. Jo, knowing better than to answer mysterious knocks on her bedroom door once her entire house was filled with fog, gripped her book tighter and continued staring at the door, ready to strike.

 

Nothing happened though.

 

Nothing happened for a very long time, and the last thing Jo remembers before falling asleep was being halfway through the third tic spell she had had in the past hour. Or at least what the clock said had been an hour.

 

She’s not sure what was real or not after that, maybe waking up so many times but being too tired to do anything but shift and go back to sleep.

 

Not sure if the knocking was real or if her brain was echoing things again. Not sure if the crack was her window or her finger. Not sure if she heard her doorknob rattling.

 

She was sure she was awake when the smell of burning wood hit her nose. She liked the smell of burning wood, but the fact that she had been asleep in her bed at this current moment wasn’t comforting. Quite the opposite, really. Had the fog turned into smoke while she wasn’t looking?

 

“Hi.” 

 

Jo looked and saw a woman standing in the corner of her room, standing near the ashes of what had once been her toybox.

 

Jo screamed, grabbing for her book again, only to find it had fallen from her hands when she was asleep. Or maybe during one of the tic spells. Who’s to know.

 

“It’s strange. I haven’t seen you before today, but I know so much about you.”

 

Jo glanced down at her book, trying to mentally calculate how quickly she could reach down and get it and if this woman would or could snap her neck before she got it. She decided she could not, and looked back up at the woman.

 

Her voice was nice, though the fact that she had broken into Jo’s house and then room, burning several things in her wake distracted from that by a great deal.

 

Jo opened her mouth to speak, but the woman glared, and then spoke again.

 

“Your mother just loved you. Wouldn’t shut up about you, really, you’re lucky to have had such a caring mother.”

 

Jo screamed in the woman's general direction, trying to come across as threatening.

 

“You look so much like her, has anyone ever told you that?”

 

The woman grew closer with this, footsteps heavy on the floor, unlike what they had been before.

 

Jo could smell smoke and fear, and the woman left ashy footprints where she walked.

 

Jo looked down at the book again, now right at the woman’s feet. She knows she had no chance of reaching it in time.

 

“Especially your hair.”

 

The woman frowned, then before Jo could fully look back up at her she grabbed a fishful of Jo’s hair and yanked it up a bit, Jo screaming again, even though the pain didn’t really register.

 

What did register was the smell of burnt hair. It took Jo a very confusing second to figure out what the fuck the smell was, but the noise above her head and loose strands of hair falling in her lap tipped her off fairly quickly.

 

The smell of burnt hair wasn’t something Jo was ever going to forget.

 

Jo only realized she was still screaming when she had to stop screaming to hear a noise better. 

 

“Shit.”

 

The woman backed a step away from Jo as she heard her father call up the stairs all panicked.

 

“Hannah start the fuckin car!” The woman snapped, running out of Jo’s room and turning to go down the hallway.

 

The was another voice, quieter than the first woman’s, “Saph, I’ve told you a million times, stop calling it a car.”

There was an odd whooshing noise and the fog seemed to quickly disappear just as Jo’s father came up the stairs.

 

They moved again immediately after that, neither of them could stand to stay there much longer.

 

Beth always kept her hair short after that.

 

It was an irrational fear, she knew that. But every time she saw her hair was getting too long she started to smell burnt hair again. She wanted to grow her hair out long like her mother’s always was, though it wouldn’t be the same, her hair now streaked with faint bits of white, something she knows now was the fog.

 

But she hated the smell of burnt hair.

 

So Beth kept her hair short.